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Lecture 7

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Department
Linguistics
Course
LINA02H3
Professor
Chandan Narayan
Semester
Summer

Description
Sociolinguistics • Studies language in social contexts. • Object of study is the speech community, as opposed to the individual speaker. Speech community any group sharing sociolinguistic norms (=conventions) of language use • In a broad sense all speakers of English are a very big speech community - we share norms about word order, vocabulary, etc. • But there are also important linguistic differences between English speakers. These are traditionally identified on the basis of geography but they can also be identified on the basis of community- internal differences like class, gender, age, ethnicity, etc. • Given that the existence of systematic differences, on what basis do we say that, say, speakers of Hong Kong English and Southern Ontario English both speak the same language? • mutual intelligibility: the criterion linguists ususally use to determine whether people speak ‘the same language’ • If two people can understand each other, then systematic differences in their speech are said to reflect different dialects of the same language. • The differences between speech communities may reduce to minor differences in pronunciation (‘accents’) – NB: everybody has an accent! This is a relative term. • There may also be lexical and grammatical differences between varieties. –sociolect: a dialect strongly associated with some social group. –ethnic dialect: a dialect strongly associated with a particular ethnic group. –regional dialect: a dialect strongly associated with a particular geographical area. Dialect vs Language • The dialect/language distinction can be problematic – Hindi vs. Urdu – Serbian vs. Croatian – Cantonese vs. Mandarin – Moroccan Arabic vs. Sudanese Arabic Varieties • A more neutral term often used: varieties Speech varieties • Within a given variety one also finds differences of style or register. – a speech style: defined in terms of formality of the speech situation and varies a long a continuum, from informal to formal. – a register: associated with specific kinds of speech situations (formality may or may not also be a factor). www.notesolution.com • A register that comes to be associated with a particular profession or activity, it may also be called a jargon. • Jargons are a common means of establishing group membership. • Similar to jargon, slang is a commonly found register which is used to establish group membership, usually amongst younger speakers. Sociolinguistic norms • Most speech communities are heterogeneous in that they support multiple speech varieties. Often, one variety is considered by speakers to be standard, and is viewed as more ‘correct’. Sociolinguistic norms • The criteria for choosing a standard are entirely tied to matters of sociopolitical history. For example, most standards are colonial languages (e.g. English) or classical languages (e.g. Arabic). • Standards are always prestige dialects. • But note, not all dialects with prestige are standards; prestige can be relative. Sociolinguistic norms • When linguists have attempted to define standards for communities with no clearly identified standard variety, these efforts have largely failed. – Aside from socially agreed upon criteria of prestige there are no objective criteria for this! Sociolinguistic norms • In fact, even in communities where a standard has been defined by grammarians, it has been shown that nobody actually speaks it. • Speakers will adopt different elements of the standard, depending on their social status, education, and the situation in which they find themselves. • Even prescriptive grammarians disagree about what is ‘right’. Social norms Social norms • While it is virtually impossible to choose a standard using meaningful criteria, it cannot be denied that speech communities tend to have shared attitudes about what constitutes ‘good’ speech. • Researchers can determine which variety is looked upon as more standard in a community through attitude studies. Language attitudes • One way to examine language attitudes is to study linguistic insecurity, i.e. the extent to which speakers believe they do not speak correctly. • A study in Winnipeg used a list of words with variable pronunciation in Canadian English to study linguistic insecurity. • participants listened to 2 possible pronunciations for each word, and fill out a questionnaire saying which they used, and which they thought was correct. Language attitudes • Some interesting results: – common usage was not a good indicator of standard usage. – forms associated with British usage were considered more ‘correct’, but forms associated with American usage were more often reported as being used. – Lower-middle-class speakers were most likely to show high linguistic insecurity: most often judged their own answers ‘incorrect’. Language attitudes • Another method for assessing speaker’s attitudes to particular speech varities: matched guise test. • Participants listen to recordings of two speakers and rate the speakers according to dimensions like intelligence, social class, and general likeability. • The catch: in reality the ‘two speakers’ are a single speaker, using two different varieties. Language attitudes • Matched guise tests performed in England found that speakers of RP (received pronunciation) were ranked more highly respect to characteristics associated with success: intelligence, socioeconomic status, even height. • Early studies in Quebec (1960s) found that both anglophone and francophone participants ranked speakers more positively when they were using English. Language attitudes • A third kind of test: participants asked to rate the accents of different geographical areas according to ‘pleasantness’, ‘correctness’ and ‘similarity’ to their own speech. • In one Canadian study, participants from Alberta and Ontario both considered that British Columbians have the best English in Canada, though, apart from some vocabulary, there are no salient dialectal difference between B.C. English and Alberta or Ontario English Non-standard varieties • The existence of a standard variety in a speech community doesn’t mean that all other varieties are sub-standard. • Usually, there are many forms that deviate from the standard but are considered perfectly acceptable in that they are not stigmatized. • However some varieties do carry stigma attached. Linguists use the term non-standard to refer to varieties that are stigmatized in a community. The term should not be taken to mean that these varieties are ‘wrong’ or ‘defective’. Non-standard varieties • Prescriptivists often criticize non-standard forms for showing inherent illogic or for being unsystematic. • A well-known example: English double- negatives. • but there is nothing unsystematic or illogical about a double-negative. In many languages it is the accepted way of expression negation, for example in Spanish. • non-standard varieties tend to be socially less valued, for complex reasons, but there is no basis for ‘devaluing’ them with respect to their grammars. Varieties of Canadian English • Canadian English finds its origins in several waves of settlement: – British colonizers • From Southwestern England • From Scotland and Ireland – Loyalists from various parts of the U.S. www.notesolution.com • Much of the linguistic input came from the United States, and Canadians have interacted with this neighbour for a log time. • Still there are systematic differences. • Lexical features – particular to Canadian institutions: e.g. riding, constable, Crown prosecutor – particular to Canadian context more generally: e.g. tuque, double-double, zed not zee • Phonological differences – shone rhymes with gone, not bone – Canadian Rai
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